Is 'organic wine' a healthy lifestyle choice?

Posted in Life Bites |

John Lang. Founder, co-owner, Good Wine Online

The short and surprising answer is NO.

The longer answer is quite complicated so let me explain a bit. It all depends on which organic wine you buy, so simply having “organic” on the label does not mean the wine is even remotely healthy!

Good wine made naturally is exceptionally good for us healthwise, yet we are constantly told by the powers that be that drinking wine is bad for us and will give us an array of illnesses from heart attack to cancer. Do you remember that ridiculous and completely inaccurate headline last year - drinking two glasses of wine a day causes cancer? The study it was based on was completely flawed.

Yet the truth is exactly the opposite - drinking good wine can actually reduce the likelihood of contracting cancer by as much as 50%, reduce heart disease and stroke, reduce Alzheimers and dementia, and even reduce the likelihood of contracting diabetes by 50%.

You can read the benefits in a report by renowned physician and winemaker Dr Phil Norrie MBBS, MA, MSc, MSocSc[Hons], PhD.

So what about 'organic' wine?

The issue isn’t so much with the wine but with the certification. “EU organic certification” now isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The EU changed its law on organic wine labelling in 2012. For a wine to be labelled “organic wine” and carry the EU organic wine logo, the grapes must be farmed according to organic practices, and now the wine must also be made according to organic methods too - genuine progress you would think!

But the procedures are far too relaxed with 43 different additives permitted including large amounts of potentially harmful sulphites. There are over 80 additives permitted in non organic wines!

Why would an organic wine need potassium bitartrate, copper sulphate or silicon dioxide? Then up to 100mg/l of artificial sulphites added - that is just for red, whites are permitted 150mg/l and sweet wines a whopping 370mg/l. But best of all, if the producer feels it is necessary he can completely ignore these limits and put in as many artificial sulphites as he likes!

And all manner of manipulation is permitted including reverse osmosis, a type of membrane filtering which removes just about all the goodness from the wine.

Clearly EU Organic Certified wines are not the “organic” we would like to be buying. Some EU certified organic wines will be made properly with minimal chemical additives. But a great many will not and as this legislation is “one size fits all” there is no way of telling the good wines from the bad! So this legislation is actually a bad thing for genuine organic producers, for consumers, and for for the organic movement in general.

But all is not lost. If you buy USA certified organic wines, their rules are much stricter with no sulphites permitted to be added. These are the pure organic wines we would like to be buying, such as those from Frey Vineyards, genuinely organic since their conception in 1970.

So which wines are healthy?

Wine has been made for over 2000 years. Quite simply back then it was all organic as that was the only method of farming until the latter half of the last century. There are still thousands of small producers making wines the way their parents and grandparents used to, often in the same building using the same equipment. This is good healthy wine packed with natural antioxidants and is actively good for you, but has no organic certification. And as it costs significant money to get certified most of these producers will never do it.

Take a look at the French paradox - historically the French had a diet consisting of far higher fat intake than the UK, and per capita drank far more wine. Yet heart disease was far lower than in the UK, because they ate good healthy food and drank good healthy wine packed with natural antioxidants. In the UK virtually all our food and drink is heavily processed and laden with artificial additives.

Skin cancer rates are higher in the UK than in the Mediterranean countries and we can’t blame that on sunshine. Sulphites “have been linked to cancer” - I’m probably not allowed to say they cause cancer, although anybody in remission for cancer is told to cut sulphites out of their diet! And the World Health Organization has recommended “phasing sulphites out” although that was 40 years after the Centre for Scientific Research in the Public Interest asked for them to be banned after killing several people who ate from a salad bar sprayed with them!

Draw your own conclusions.

In my opinion, the healthiest wines to drink are sulphite-free (i.e. no artificial sulphite additives) wines.  Meaning they have had no artificial sulphites added (obviously) and no other chemicals added either. They are pure fermented grapes with virtually nothing taken away or added. Most use the natural yeasts on the grapes but some will use an introduced yeast (normally organic). So these wines contain nothing harmful to your body at all, except alcohol, which if consumed in moderation can actually be beneficial anyway.

But these sulphite-free wines go further still and are actively good for you, bringing serious health benefits - again when consumed in moderation!

Sulphite-free wines are packed with some of nature’s most potent antioxidants – resveratrol, quercetin and epicatechin. Botanical antioxidants such as these work together in concert and affect all the free radical producing systems that have the capacity to cause cell membrane, tissue and DNA damage if not rapidly quenched. By contrast, vitamin C only works on a single free radical system and its effect is very concentration dependent. Therefore, if circulating levels of vitamin C are too low, excessive oxidation (the process that causes rusting of metal and premature ageing of tissues!) occurs, while too high a concentration converts it to what is known as a pro-oxidant. A pro-oxidant is unable to successfully quench free radicals and further enhances damage caused by excess oxidation. These antioxidants block the effects of free radicals that can be extremely harmful, contributing to cancer, stroke, heart disease, dementia and a whole array of serious illnesses.

So a glass or two of sulphite-free wine each evening can actually be a good healthy lifestyle choice. And you wouldn’t believe the difference you’ll feel waking up the next morning. These wines have been proven to be a tonic!

Where can I by sulphite-free wines?

Sulphite-free wines are not widely available, as they are not widely produced, and quite simply are not viable for the supermarkets or big retailers. You would need to go to a specialist retailer such as Good Wine Online where we import and retail about 50 different sulphite-free wines.

They cost a bit more than mainstream wines as they are literally handmade, but the long term health benefits they bring, and the feeling the morning after, far out way the extra cost! And they’re available online with next day delivery UK-wide so ordering is actually easier than popping down to your local wine shop!

Date: 07 July 2014